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Paying for Digital Content Still Not the Norm in the UK

Majority of UK internet users get digital content for free

There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes. However, as consumers have been moving their content consumption habits from the physical to the digital realm, that’s exactly what they’ve come to expect.

Expectation, it seems, is also being put into practice, with much larger numbers of UK internet users accessing free content or services than are opting for paid-for content. According to April 2014 research by Ipsos MORI, commissioned by Samsung, significantly greater numbers of UK internet users had accessed various categories of content for free than had paid for the privilege. For example, only 9% said they had paid for streamed TV, movie or video content; the proportion who had streamed this type of content for free was considerably higher, at 28%.

Even where there was greatest parity—14% said they’d paid for downloaded music content, vs. 18% who said they’d done this for free—this was in an area where a free streaming model is becoming increasingly common.

Of course, given the option of paying for something or getting it for free, who wouldn’t opt for the latter? But a free lunch is very rarely that, and this is true of digital content, too. While UK consumers aren’t particularly keen to pay for content with hard cash, they are prepared to pay with their attention, taking an “ad hit” in order to get their content for free. Given the numbers from Ipsos MORI, it appears that this method of “payment” is the most desirable. However, there are some factors that may sway consumers to pay with old-fashioned currency.

In the mobile app sphere, ad avoidance is something that some consumers take into account when opting to pay for apps, but it’s a far less important consideration than the quality of the content. November 2013 data from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 40% of mobile phone users in the UK were willing to pay for mobile apps in order to have no ads. However, a far greater proportion—72%—were most willing to pay for what they deemed “valuable content.”

This is something that extends to other content categories, too. In TV and video, consumers are most likely to pay for streaming subscriptions, say, if there is quality content to be had on that platform that can’t be accessed anywhere else—accessing movie back catalogs, for example. The recent FIFA World Cup provided another example of consumers’ willingness to pay for content deemed exclusive or valuable, with 80% of UK smartphone users saying they were willing to pay for World Cup video content, according to research conducted by On Device Research for the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Build the content and maybe, just maybe, they’ll come.

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